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English Rhubarb - 1kg

English Rhubarb - 1kg

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Rhubarb is the vegetable stalk of a large perennial herb (rheum rhabarbarum and a couple of other members of the same family) with an uncanny ability to impersonate fresh fruit in the middle of winter. 

This was the heyday of the Yorkshire 'rhubarb triangle' - not a place of mysterious disappearances but a concentration of forcing sheds in an area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. Mature plants of at least a couple of years old are 'forced' by being lifted from the soil late in the year and grown on inside warm, dark sheds where they send out bright pink, tender stalks with pale green or yellow leaves. Traditionally the harvest tales place by candlelight, and when it's quiet in the forcing shed it's possible to hear the faint creaking noise made by the rhubarb as it grows.

On the vegetable patch it's possible to achieve a similar result by covering the crown of the plant with an upturned bin or bucket. Alternatively the plant does very well left to its own devices, growing all the way through summer with late crops possible into the autumn. The leaves of the plant, due at least in part to the very high levels of oxalic acid they contain (and despite what you may have read in the first edition of Larousse Gastronomique) are not edible.


Stalks range from green to mauve via shocking pink and vary in size and sharpness. Valentine is a good all-rounder, being relatively sweet and not prone to bolting, and Irish Giant has stalks up to 1.5m long and as thick as your wrist.

How to buy / what to look for

Stems should be crisp, releasing sap when snapped.


Significant amounts of carbohydrates and fibre and some potassium and vitamin C.


Forced - late December to March
Field grown - April to September


Fresh rhubarb will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge, several days in a cool place, freezes well once cooked and is ideal for preserving - click here for Tim Hayward's step-by-step guide to bottling it.

Basic cooking

Stew with very little water over a low heat for 20-30 minutes, adding sugar to taste (field grown stems will need more sweetening). Use apple or orange juice as a replacement for some or all of the sugar.

Goes with / good in

Custard, ginger, compotes, jams, crumbles, stewed on top of breakfast cereal. Try as a sauce to accompany pork, goose, or mackerel.

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